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Blanchette: Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins all business these days

DENVER – Randy Perkins sits high above the floor at the Pepsi Center, retracing the switchbacks that brought his son home for the weekend – in a manner that transcends the routine spring-break laundry-and- home-cooking drop-in.

Short of starting on NBA opening night for the Nuggets, the storybook possibilities aren’t going to get much better for young Josh Perkins.

Dad’s fret, of course, is that “this is about business,” not taking bows.

Son grasps that taking care of business is exactly what got the Gonzaga Bulldogs here – here being Josh Perkins’ hometown for an 18th straight NCAA tournament appearance tonight against Seton Hall. Here is where the Zags are seeding underdogs, betting-spread favorites, trendy upset picks and no-chance discards at the crest of a college basketball season that has been both less than expected and more than anyone imagined at various times.

A little like Josh Perkins himself.

All that was wrong with the Zags in December and January in tripping over NCAA resume opportunities was distilled in Perkins’ fitful performances at point guard. Setting things right in winning the West Coast Conference tournament and the league’s automatic bid was the residue of a time-lapse freshman evolution no one else much saw coming, being consumed with premature grief and all.

“I’ve always heard that pressure bursts pipes or makes diamonds,” Perkins said. “There was a lot of pressure on us – the (NCAA) streak and it being basically our last chance. And we turned into diamonds.”

And a fan base resigning itself to a March mad had a spark of the old madness again.

For Perkins, there is little mystery to his own then-and-now flip.

“Early, I wanted success fast and I got in my own way a lot as far as not being as coachable as I could have been,” he said. “I think I’m just more open-minded now. I think we all wanted the same things, but I thought I knew it all and I really didn’t. It took me a while to realize these guys know what they’re doing – and I appreciate that they didn’t give up on me.”

Not that such a thing was even an option, but it wasn’t even supposed to get to the point.

Perkins arrived at GU last season, ready for an apprenticeship at the point behind Kevin Pangos, making himself an early-season fixture in the Zags’ rotation. Then came the kick in the face at Madison Square Garden from Georgia’s Kenny Gaines and an end to all that.

“A lot of folks ask me if the broken jaw was his low point,” said Randy Perkins, “but the low point was actually not having the opportunity to get mentored and groomed by Pangos.”

You know what they say in sports – never be the guy who follows The Guy. Pangos left a considerable shadow, but it wasn’t a statistical legacy. In fact, Perkins’ freshman numbers are similar enough – 10.3 points to Pangos’ 13.6, 40 percent 3-point shooting, 4.0 assists to 3.4, 67 turnovers to 60. What defined Pangos was winning, and the 2016 Zags – due to many factors – weren’t winning the big ones.

A rather stark factor was that GU’s pick-and-roll game – with two dominant figures like Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis to work off of – had disintegrated into pick-and-no.

“He’s attacking it with a thrust and forcing the defense into decisions now,” said Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd. “Before it was like he was so determined to make the great pass and was so soft that the defense never had to commit. He’s playing in the moment now – and a lot of that is scoring the ball himself.”

Agreed Perkins, “I knew who was setting the screen for me and how effective they were with the ball. I was looking to get it to them as soon as possible, but defenses caught on and knew I wasn’t looking for my own – and it bit me in the butt a little.”

Standards are high at Gonzaga, for guards more than anyone. Between 1993 and 2015, only one season passed with a Zag guard not on the all-WCC team – that in 2006, when the coaches’ vote somehow found room for three players from a team that finished six games behind Gonzaga in the standings and no place for Derek Raivio.

No Zag guard made it this year, either – and it wasn’t an injustice.

Just a challenge.

“You hear it,” Perkins said, “but that’s also the reason you come here. Guards like Stockton, Pargo, Dickau, Raivio – the list goes on and on. Those are great players.

“But we need to make a name for ourselves. At the end of the day, I have to be the one people are talking about. It’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing – it motivates me. Because I want to get to the top.”

Home’s not the worst place to start that journey.

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